ACTION on land reform in Scotland has been too “fragmented and piecemeal” to have a real impact, according to the expert author of a new report.

Dr Calum MacLeod’s paper Land Reform for the Common Good, published on Thursday by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, argues that successful political rhetoric on land reform has not reflected Scotland’s unusually concentrated pattern of large-scale private rural land ownership.

MacLeod, who led the post-legislative scrutiny of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 on behalf of the Scottish Parliament, argues that the situation on the ground has remained virtually unchanged.

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The paper highlights that, since 2016, the Scottish Land Fund has assisted in bringing just 0.1% (11,943 hectares) of Scotland’s rural land into community ownership.

In contrast, 139,124 hectares of Scotland’s rural land changed ownership in 2022 alone, with community purchasers conspicuous by their absence.

The paper argues that land reform policy needs to be repositioned as a distinctive area of public policy, cutting across Government portfolios in a strategic and increasingly interventionist way for a fairer distribution of Scotland’s land wealth.

MacLeod’s paper calls for a minimum threshold of 500 hectares as one criterion for what constitutes a “large-scale” landholding, rather than the Scottish Government’s proposed 3000-hectare threshold for inclusion in the forthcoming Land Reform Bill.

Mercedes Villalba, the Labour MSP for North East Scotland, has put forward similar proposals, calling the 3000-hectare threshold “timid”.

Villalba has also called for a public interest test to be applied to large-scale land sales, but MacLeod’s report goes one further.

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The land reform expert argued that the scope of the proposed test should be extended to include local infrastructure of community significance, such as piers, slipways, hotels, community facilities, or greenspace. He said this would enable the test to be applied to urban as well as rural contexts.

MacLeod said: “Devolution has revitalised land reform as a public policy issue, but too much of that policy is developed and implemented in fragmented and piecemeal fashion, rather than being underpinned by a clear strategic vision about who and what Scotland’s land is for.

“Scotland’s land politics urgently needs to rediscover and reassert its radical edge to make land work for the common good, not the private interests of a privileged few. That means ensuring that the political rhetoric surrounding land reform is matched by much more integrated and far-reaching legislative and fiscal policy action than has hitherto been the case.”

MacLeod, a native Gaelic speaker originally from Harris, also sits on the board of MG Alba, the Gaelic media service.

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The director of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, Dave Watson, said: “Jimmy Reid (above) highlighted ‘the centralisation and concentration of power in fewer and fewer hands’, and there are few places where this is more pronounced than in land ownership.

“We are therefore pleased to publish this important contribution to the debate around land reform in Scotland. How land is owned and used and, crucially, who benefits from these arrangements, is central to shaping what kind of nation Scotland aspires to be.”

The Jimmy Reid Foundation is a left-wing think tank which aims to “make the case for economic, environmental, political and social equity and justice”.

It has organised an online event where Macleod will introduce his paper on Thursday, 27 July 2023, at 7pm. You can sign up here.